3) Harlem: Capital of African America

“You must take the A Train if you want to go to Harlem”, said the guy in the ticket booth at Penn Station.  So, I bought a ticket & boarded a very crowded subway at 5:15 pm.  The ride takes only about 20 minutes, as the A Train is actually an express train that skips past about a dozen stops along the west side of Central Park before stopping at 125th Street in Harlem, also known as Martin Luther King Blvd.  Most of the major streets in Harlem are re-named after famous African Americans who were important in the civil rights struggle.  So, Lennox Ave. is also Malcolm X Blvd., and there is Frederick Douglas Blvd., and Adam Clayton Powell St.  Near the intersection of Fred Douglas & MLK is a small park holding a large statue of Harriet Tubman, a genuine American bad-ass.  I’m glad she’s going onto the $20 bill, and that Andrew Jackson is coming off.

The Apollo Theater

I had 3 nights budgeted for New York City before the cruise ship sailed for Bermuda, and spending those nights in Harlem was an easy decision. This was my 1st time to stay in Harlem, but I will likely make this my preferred neighborhood in NYC.  Harlem has been on my reading list this year, having developed an interest in the Harlem Renaissance, and in how Harlem came to be the “Capital of African America”.  Here’s the brief list of the books:

Not Without Laughter                    novel by Langston Hughes
The Weary Blues                            poetry by Langston Hughes
Go Tell It On the Mountain                novel by James Baldwin
Jazz                                                           novel by Toni Morrison
Simple                                         short stories by Langston Hughes

I stayed at a very interesting hotel with an even more interesting name:  The Harlem Flophouse.  It’s in a row house block built back in the 20’s, and the un-remodeled décor is straight-out of the 1930’s.  No tv’s, no phones, no air conditioning.  They do provide a radio, which was tuned to a bebop jazz station.  Original wood floors & brass-tile ceilings, old wrought-iron beds & claw foot tubs.  The idea is that this is the type place where jazz musicians stayed back in the 30s when they played in the local jazz clubs.  I stayed in the Thelonious Monk Room.









If you find yourself in Harlem, I recommend these places:

  • Paris Blues–  live jazz every night, no cover charge
  • Amy Ruth’s–  neighborhood soul food café, best chicken & waffles (the Al Sharpton)
  • Sylvia’s-  world famous soul food since the 50’s, order the collard greens
  • WBGO–  FM & internet jazz radio station


2 thoughts on “3) Harlem: Capital of African America”

  1. Love your writing about your trip. Feels like we are right there with you! And you’ve peaked my interest in visiting Harlem next time we’re not n NYC. Glad you liked cruisin’. It is a nice way to travel.

  2. Duke Ellington at the Cotton Club…
    Cab Calloway at the Apollo…
    Ben Webster and Lester Young at Minton’s…
    Billie Holiday at the Alhambra…

    What I wouldn’t give to have been in Harlem in the 1930’s and 40’s.

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